Summary

Physical Activity and Sport: Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (DofH, 2011).  The positive physical and psychological benefits of individuals taking part in regular physical activity are well known (Biddle et al., 2015). Regular physical activity (experienced through sport) contributes to the prevention of several primary and secondary chronic diseases as well as reducing the risk of premature death (Warburton et al., 2006) and can improve psychological wellbeing (Biddle et al. 2015).

Intellectual disability: Of concern is that individuals with intellectual disability (ID) have been found to have lower levels of physical activity when compared to the general population (Fitzpatrick et al. in prep.). This group experience health disparities such as higher levels of cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory disease (Taggart et al. 2015).  Given the health advantages of being physically activity has, it is imperative that programmes which encourage physical activity participation be sought and their effects be investigated.

Special Olympics: The Special Olympics has more than 4.7 million participants in 169 countries whose goal is to bring better fitness, nutrition and healthier lifestyles to individuals through their physical activity, competitive sport and healthy lifestyle programmes (Special Olympics, 2017). Although the SO is focussed on participation in physical activity and sport there is a shortage of literature that investigates any positive effect that the programme might have on physical and psychological health. Furthermore, there is limited evidence regarding how SO physiological training (Baran et al. 2013) and psychological preparation (MacDonald et al., 2015) for competitive events can affect athletic performance and outcomes, which is surprising given the latest SO world games attracted over 7000 athletes (Special Olympics, 2015). Given their established links, this PhD programme will design a programme developed and co-produced with SO athletes and coaches that will focus on enhancing health, physical fitness and athletic performance through physiological training and psychological preparation.

AIM: Based upon a social ecological framework, the aim of the PhD project will be to develop, co-produce and test, a multi-component physical activity intervention for young adults with ID. The programme will address vital health benefits of physical activity by focussing on the links between physical activity, cardiovascular fitness and health through the medium of athletic performance. To achieve this aim, the PhD programme will have 4 objectives:

1). To complete a systematic review of existing literature on the physical health and psychological wellbeing outcomes resulting from participation in SO programmes.

2). Explore the methodological and practical challenges of different objective measures of collating activity levels, cardiovascular fitness, performance and wellbeing in young adults with ID

3). To develop and co-produce a multi-component physical activity intervention for young adults with ID and their coaches in SO, targeting health and athletic performance using a social ecological framework.

4). To undertake a feasibility randomised trial of the multi-component physical activity intervention targeting physical activity, cardiovascular fitness, and well-being.

The programme will be delivered by BSc Sport, Physical Activity and Health students deployed to SO clubs in the North West region of Ireland.


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.

Funding and eligibility

Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

  • The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide a maintenance allowance of £15,609 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). The scholarship also provides £900 per annum as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,750 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Department for the Economy (DFE)

  • The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide a maintenance allowance of £15,609 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). The scholarship also provides £900 per annum as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation.
  • To be eligible for the full scholarship, applicants must meet UK residency requirements. This means that you must have been resident in the United Kingdom for the full three year period before the first day of the first academic year of the course.
  • EU nationals who do not meet UK residency are eligible to apply for a fees only award which will cover tuition fees (no maintenance support is provided).
  • Non-EU nationals must be ‘settled’ in the UK by the closing date of the application or have been ordinarily resident in the UK for purposes other than study for the past three years in order to be eligible for an award.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Joshua Williamson

My research examined the ability of exercise to inflict damage to DNA and other biologically important structures. During my PhD I had the pleasure of being supervised by Prof Gareth Davison and Dr Ciara Hughes. Pursuing a PhD was never a goal from the outset of my academic career - I wanted to be a PE teacher and completed my BSc in Sport and Exercise Science. However, I carried on with my studies and completed a MSc in Sports Nutrition before enrolling in my PhD.If I could give advice to any new graduate student, it would be the nature of research means that things will not always go according to plan. Keep calm, take a break and then carry on. Have a life outside work. Although your lab group is like your work family, it’s great for your mental health to be able to escape work especially when things don't go to plan.

Joshua Williamson - PhD in Sports Science